Review: The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

I love that Davis sets her historical fiction in and around famous buildings in New York City, and I was very excited to read this one centered at the iconic New York Public Library.

What it’s about

It’s 1913, and on the surface, Laura Lyons couldn’t ask for more out of life–her husband is the superintendent of the New York Public Library, allowing their family to live in an apartment within the grand building, and they are blessed with two children. But headstrong, passionate Laura wants more, and when she takes a leap of faith and applies to the Columbia Journalism School, her world is cracked wide open. As her studies take her all over the city, she finds herself drawn to Greenwich Village’s new bohemia, where she discovers the Heterodoxy Club–a radical, all-female group in which women are encouraged to loudly share their opinions on suffrage, birth control, and women’s rights. Soon, Laura finds herself questioning her traditional role as wife and mother. But when valuable books are stolen back at the library, threatening the home and institution she loves, she’s forced to confront her shifting priorities head on . . . and may just lose everything in the process.

Eighty years later, in 1993, Sadie Donovan struggles with the legacy of her grandmother, the famous essayist Laura Lyons, especially after she’s wrangled her dream job as a curator at the New York Public Library. But the job quickly becomes a nightmare when rare manuscripts, notes, and books for the exhibit Sadie’s running begin disappearing from the library’s famous Berg Collection. Determined to save both the exhibit and her career, the typically risk-adverse Sadie teams up with a private security expert to uncover the culprit. However, things unexpectedly become personal when the investigation leads Sadie to some unwelcome truths about her own family heritage–truths that shed new light on the biggest tragedy in the library’s history.

This book ticked so many boxes for me, I was thrilled to receive a copy through NetGalley.

My thoughts

First box ticked: The Lions of Fifth Avenue is my favorite type of book: historical fiction with dual timelines and multiple POVs. Davis is so good at crafting a story across multiple generations, and this book is no exception. The plot flips back and forth between 1913 and 1993 seamlessly, is full of rich detail about the library, and does a great job of capturing the feeling of both time periods.

Next box ticked: interesting female characters. In this book, we get Laura Lyons, who is living the life of many of her contemporaries as a housewife and mother, but wants more for herself. She ends up going back to school for journalism and discovering a lot about herself while she explores the feminist movement in NYC in the early 20th century. We also get Laura’s granddaughter, Sadie, a divorced, childless librarian in the 1990s trying to solve modern day thefts and delving into her family history while also discovering some things about herself. Both characters are well-written and distinct, and I enjoyed being in both of their heads.

Which leads me to another ticked box: feminist themes. Both women go on their own personal journey about what it means to be a woman in their time and discover truths about themselves. I especially loved Laura’s path from housewife and mother to journalist, activist, and feminist essayist. Amelia is a fantastic character as well.

The gorgeous New York Public Library is the setting for both storylines and really becomes a character itself. I had no idea that the superintendent of the library and his family once lived in an apartment inside the library, but that is such a fascinating story in and of itself. The descriptions of the library were vivid and obviously well-researched. And who doesn’t love the magic of a library?

While I appreciated the writing and the characters very much, the ultimate resolution of the mystery seemed a little too far-fetched for me, and ultimately didn’t seem to go well with the rest of the book. Laura’s story was more believable and interesting than Sadie’s, and the ending was just a bit Scooby-Doo, which ended up taking a way from my enjoyment in a way.

Still, a fun and light story about interesting women and a beautiful library. Absolutely worth the read for fans of Fiona Davis and historical women’s fiction.

⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Review: The Deadly Hours anthology

I was drawn to this ARC because one of the stories is by Susanna Kearsley, and I’ve really enjoyed a couple of her novels. While I struggled a bit to engage with this collection, I ended up loving the last story by C.S. Harris, an author I’ve never read before, the most.

What it’s about

From the (somewhat vague) Goodreads description:

A stellar line-up of historical mystery novelists weaves the tale of a priceless and cursed gold watch as it passes through time wreaking havoc from one owner to another. The characters are irrevocably linked by fate, each playing a key role in breaking the curse and destroying the watch once and for all.

From 1733 Italy to Edinburgh in 1831 to a series of chilling murders in 1870 London, and a lethal game of revenge decades later, the watch touches lives with misfortune, until it comes into the reach of one young woman who might be able to stop it for good.

I will get a bit more into the individual stories in my reviews. I do think this collection is largely fan service for readers who follow these authors and their series, but it’s such a clever idea to have the cursed watch link all of the stories together over 300 years.

My thoughts

I find it hard to review collections of stories like this overall, especially when different authors contribute, so I’m going to review each story individually first.

Weapon of Choice by Susanna Kearsley

In the first story, it’s 1733 and we meet Jacobite Hugh MacPherson and his wife, Mary, as they travel by sea to Italy to meet and protect the Duke of Ormonde while escorting him to Scottish King James’ court in exile. A storm forces them to dock at Portofino, where they stay at an inn with an assassin and a pirate who carries with him ‘La Siréne,’ an elegantly engraved watch that is said to be cursed. Political intrigue, mystery and murder ensue before the travelers and the watch part company.

Hugh and Mary, as well as some other characters that meet at the inn, appear in some of Kearsley’s full-length novels I have yet to read. I’m sure I would have appreciated their presence here more if I had read those novels, but they were still well-developed characters. The writing is good, and the groundwork of the legend of the watch is laid nicely, but I had trouble engaging with the story until it was nearly over. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

In a Fevered Hour by Anna Lee Huber

La Siréne next appears in 1831 in Edinburgh, Scotland, where the watch’s curse is blamed for a sickness sweeping parts of the city. Lady Kiera Darby is a rather unusual detective who gets involved in tracking down the watch while trying to solve the mysterious deaths.

I’ve not read any of the Lady Darby mysteries (a google search tells me there are several of them), but I enjoyed the gothic feel, Kiera’s unconventional investigation style, and her relationship with her partner/husband. This story flowed along nicely, but I again felt I would have enjoyed it more if I’d read the background novels first. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

A Pocketful of Death by Christine Trent

La Siréne surfaces again in 1870, when English undertaker Violet Harper quite literally digs it up while exhuming a grave in Edinburgh. The watch travels with her back to London, where it becomes linked to a string of murders in a wealthy Victorian neighborhood. Violet apparently does some mystery-solving when she’s not undertaking, and she becomes involved in solving the crimes.

Again, I’ve not read any of Trent’s Lady of Ashes series, so Violet was new to me. I enjoyed this fun mystery and the quirky characters, and really liked how the watch was a central character as well, and I was only mildly perplexed by some of the backstories that probably would have made more sense if I was reader of the series. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Siren’s Call by C.S. Harris

The cursed pocket watch next pops up in 1944 in a war-torn seaside village in Kent. Someone who appears to be aware of the legend of La Siréne is murdering villagers in this small community, and museum curator Rachel Townsend-Smythe begins looking for the watch as well. At the same time, two MI5 agents, Jude Lowe and Remus Stokes, are in town trying to track down a German spy, and as it becomes apparent the spy and the murders are linked, Rachel finds herself working closely with Jude.

This last story was my favorite of the anthology, which I wasn’t expecting as I think I may have burned myself out on WWII historical fiction a few years ago. I really loved the WWII storyline, and Rachel and Jude were such great characters—they are also original characters for this story, and I think that helped me not feel like I was missing something. I especially love how this final story wraps up the journey (we hope?) of La Siréne and it’s curse. I’ve never read anything by C.S. Harris before, but I definitely plan to now, as I love her writing style here. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Overall, I am impressed with the collaboration between these four authors to bring La Siréne through time in such a cohesive and fascinating way. This collection is probably best suited for readers who are already fans of the characters in the first three stories, but as they are all written to stand alone, that’s not required. Good historical fiction mysteries with four distinct voices. Anthology rating; ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2